By Chet Nagle
Arhus Publishing, $19.95, 214 pages
Robin Hood used bows and arrows to right what he saw as wrongs. Peregrine Montresor, the protagonist in “Lazarus Man,” uses cyberspace.
The story begins with Montresor plotting payback to Stavros Sachs, a billionaire currency speculator who had bet against the Turkish lira, causing it to collapse and nearly bringing down the country’s economy. Riots ensued, during which Montresor’s significant other, a daring young woman news photographer, was killed.
Montresor worked for a computer service company that had a contract with a large international bank. The bank gave it the assignment to merge the computer programs of a small New Jersey bank it had just purchased with its own. Although he knew much about survival from his earlier days in the Army Rangers (and it would come into play later), for now his detailed knowledge about computer servers was called for, and he put it to good use.
Before long, Sachs found that $14 billion was missing from his account at the big bank. The loss showed no sign of hacking and it could not be traced. Soon, Sachs received messages from governments badly in need of funds, thanking him for his large gifts to them. As a man who was used to commanding everything and everyone in his orbit, he was beside himself with frustration.
Sachs long ago had lost whatever milk of human kindness he may have had and became fixated on the abstraction of manipulating currencies for pleasure. He also manipulates everyone who comes in touch with him.
A sharp young Sachs lackey is given the task of finding someone who can, in turn, find the person who took Sachs’ money from the bank and liquidate him. The lackey is led to one Baron Ernst von Stettin, a former East German Stasi agent, now running what is said to be a security company in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Montresor, meanwhile had died — or so it seemed. He had vanished and there were no traceable records of him. The action shifts to Vienna where a recent debonair arrival, Matthew “Beau” Neumann, has been charming local society. He has a city house and a country estate and seems to be very rich. One evening, in the bar of the Hotel Sacher, he sees a beautiful young woman with Nordic blond hair. He strikes up a conversation. They think they have met before, but cannot decide when or where.
He and Keralia Saarinen slip into conversation as if they had been longtime friends. One thing leads to another and they begin an affair. It is interrupted when police inspectors, who had made an unexpected call on him at his apartment, turn out to be in the pay of von Stettin, who thinks he has identified the man who took Sachs’ money.
This leads to a hunt for Neumann through most of Alpine Europe. He seems to have vanished and Montresor has taken his place. Montresor grabs Keralia and they begin an uneasy pairing that leaves the reader wondering what will come next. Will they live through it — both of them? What about von Stettin and his employer, Sachs?
If you are interested in traversing from Austria to Germany to France without going through a border station, this book will be a useful guide, although you had better be in top condition and be prepared to walk, climb, ski and bicycle, in addition to using automobiles.
At various times a mysterious former comrade of Montresor’s appears when he is not expected. So do von Stettin and his ubiquitous network of operatives and spies.
In addition, Keralia, the beautiful blonde, has reason to fear for the safety of her younger sister, whom she thought was comfortably ensconced in classes and horseback riding at the Madeira School outside Washington. The sister’s fate is a source of constant anxiety.
To get the answers to all these thickets of intrigues you will need to read this thriller right to the end. Be prepared for a long reading session. It may be late at night by the time you finish, for it will be difficult to put the book down until you have the answers.
Chet Nagle is a master storyteller. He creates believable characters and gives their settings verisimilitude. He knows, in detail, the towns, cities, terrain and customs of which he is writing. “Lazarus Man” will leave you pleasantly exhausted.
• Peter Hannaford is an author who lived in Washington for many years and now lives in Northern California. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats” (Threshold Editions).